Chapter Nine - The Red Sea coast
If you would like to stay in 'Ain Sukhna on the Red Sea coast, here are the current prices :
in the Mena Oasis you can choose between two formulas : a E£240 bungalow or a double suite for E£200. Per night of course. The Sukhna Hotel has rooms for E£113 a night. We decided not to stay in 'Ain Sukhna.
On the way to Zafarana we were pulled over by a truck. The driver was waving wildly and honking his horn like a madman. We decided to stop, because we thought there was something wrong with our car (or with our driving style). None of that. The man and his friend just wanted me to take their picture. Surprised I fulfilled their wish. Like American truck drivers on a poster, they posed for me - thumbs up ! We all continued our ways. Another two people made happy !
There's nothing to Zafarana. There's a petrol station, if you're in need of one, but there's also a (seemingly new) motel : the Sahara Inn. It's a modern building, obviously put there to receive bus-loads of tourists. And that's what happens indeed. So you can imagine how the prices are. They even demand money for using the toilet. The food is not cheap, but good. There's a lot of choice. Upstairs there are some nice, modern, spacious rooms. Singles/doubles go for E£70/90, a very good breakfast is included. If you arrive here by car, some guy will come up and start cleaning it, no matter what. He just wants a tip and is easily satisfied. We came here three times in one day and three times our car was washed.
We visited the monasteries of St. Paul and St. Anthony but also here the Coptic monks were in the Lent, so the visits were "a little more brief than usual". In both monasteries you have to check in at the gate. In St. Paul's you have to ring a bell, in St. Anthony's honk the horn or just go around and find the gate-keeper in the gate-house. You then sign a guest book after which you can continue your drive.
The two monasteries are similar in build-up. Both have interesting and nicely decorated old churches. You can't take pictures with flash inside (but read this as none at all, because even with a ISO1000 film things would be difficult without a tripod) because it can ruin the wall paintings, but it can also be because there's a shop selling postcards and books.
Both also have a spring that gives a continuous flow, winter and summer. In St. Anthony's the supply is sufficient, "thanks to God", but in St. Paul's they have to obtain additional water. The water comes out of the rocks and runs through a gutter to a basin. Water out of this first basin is used for drinking. Then the water flows to a second basin. Out of this comes the washing water. Another gutter leads this slightly 'contaminated' water to the gardens where it's used for irrigation.
Both monasteries also have the usual fortress and very thick surrounding walls that protected the monks during Bedouin raids. There's also the ancient refectory with on the table various old cooking utensils, plates and cutlery. Both have very old grain grinding mills and olive presses. One of the grain mills in St. Anthony's must be the oldest (9th Century AD), but one in St. Paul's is the most beautiful. The wooden box is very nicely carved and decorated.
One can also see (inside & outside) the old pulleys and tight ropes that once lifted people and goods up to the monasteries. In St. Anthony's one of the best overall views is from nearby here.
In St. Anthony's also visit the Church of the Apostles. Here lies the body of Bishop Yousab al-Abah. He was bishop of Gerga (upper-Egypt) in 1791 and died on January 24th 1826. According to the monk who took us on a tour, his body has not been treated in any way and nevertheless it is still intact which is "a miracle". Some of the bishop's vestments can also be seen. Nearby are the remains of a relatively recently (on Dec. 17th 1976) deceased monk, Father Yostos al-Anthony. "He became a monk here in 1941. He was a very humble man and extremely religious. He was a source of healing for many."
Both monasteries are easy to reach if you have your own transport. Any of the roads to/from them are good. A 4WD vehicle for the drive to Beni Suef (if you're going there, of course) is totally unnecessary. A normal car is more than sufficient; the road is good. You can even achieve high speeds, if you want.